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Rights and Responsibilities
There are No Rights Without Responsibility
In today's world, especially in America, everyone is worried about rights. It's hard to get through a week before you hear one group or another scream that someone has violated their rights in some way. While I'm all for treating people fairly, no matter who they are, what is almost never talked about is responsibility. Rights without responsibility leads to recklessness. We are living in one of the most free societies in history, but if no one takes responsibility for defending our liberties against those who would seek to destroy our culture and our way of life, how long do you think that this free society would last? The answer is obvious. Freedom isn't free.
I. Gods' Gift, Our Responsibility
Our rights don't ultimately come to us from government, but from God. We are all equally created in His image (Genesis 1:27), and therefore should all be given an equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But that is just what it is, an opportunity. Each of us must be free to carve that out for ourselves. Those who are lazy and aren't willing to work, don't have a right to take it from those who do. As the Apostle Paul tells us: "If any would not work, neither should he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10). Can you imagine if everyone decided that the government owed them a living and stopped taking the responsibility of going to a job? The government would soon shut down for lack of money and all the necessities of life would not be taken care of by anyone.
Another thing to consider is that when we are so concerned with our own rights that we neglect those of others, then we quickly begin to step upon each other in order to make sure that our selfish needs and desires are met. We get this survival of the fittest mentality, and only those who are strongest and most able to defend themselves will thrive and have any rights. The continuation of each of our rights depends upon our ability to defend those of the weakest amongst us.
The truth is, if my rights cause someone else to be hurt, or lose freedom in some way, then I am not free to indulge in them. My right to swing my fist ends where my neighbor's nose begins. I cannot use my freedom of speech, for instance, to cry "Fire!" in a crowded movie theatre. The results of this could be disastrous and many could get killed or maimed if they fall and are trampled. Once again we need to take responsibility.
II. I Am My Brother's Keeper
That age old question posed by the murderer Cain, after he killed his brother Abel: "Am I my brother's keeper?" can be answered with one word. Yes! We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters to see to it that they are taken care of and treated with dignity and respect. As a matter of fact, Paul said in Philippians 2:3 to "Do nothing through selfishness or empty conceit; but with humility of mind regard one anther as more important than yourselves."
Paul, in Romans 14:13-23 and in I Corinthians 8 is addressing the idea, which was a problem in his day, of meat offered to idols. The person strong in faith might know that this meat was good to eat because, idols are nothing and the one true God is to be thanked for his daily bread. But he who is weaker in the faith might think that by eating meat offered to idols, he was in some way giving glory to those gods, and going back to idol worship. By observing the stronger person's freedom it could lead to his weaker brother going back to a pagan lifestyle. In that case he would cause his weaker brother to stumble, even though he himself would be free to indulge in eating the meat.
What is Paul's answer to this dilemma? Here are his very words: "It good not to eat meat or drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles" (Romans 14:21). He also said: "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble" (I Corinthians 8:13).
The principle holds true today. We have a responsibility to help each other in our spiritual walks. For instance, suppose you like to drink a glass of wine at dinner. However, you know that the person that you invite to dine with you that night is an alcoholic. You are perfectly free to have wine if you wish, but why tempt your brother with your freedom? The best thing to do would be to restrict your freedom for the sake of your brother, for that night. Our responsibility to our brother outweighs the rights that we possess.
When all is said and done, there can be no rights without responsibility. They are opposite sides of the same coin. We all need to stop worrying about our own rights so much, and start worrying more about how what we do affects others. We have to think more about our responsibility to make this world a better place, not only for ourselves, but for all mankind. For if we are all looking out for one another, our own rights will be taken care of automatically.